Sunday, February 15, 2015

Seven Mids for Four Months in Morocco

Every semester as a midshipman is unique, but for the five 2/C and two 1/C abroad in Morocco this past fall that was especially so.  The main purpose of such travel is typically language acquisition, and while a great deal of study did go on, the cross-cultural exposure was significantly more challenging and educational.

The opportunity to study and use Arabic everyday while living in Morocco’s capital Rabat stretched everyone’s linguistic ability, but communication is much more than simply speech.  Through many incredible shared and individual experiences the semester abroad developed these future officers’ understanding of the North African people, language and culture.

This past semester abroad was MIDN 2/C Marc Prather’s first experience living in a foreign country. The exposure helped him gain insight into daily life in a Muslim country. Apart from mouthwatering food, breathtaking scenery and remarkable hospitality, Marc’s most memorable experience was Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that involves the sacrifice of a sheep.

“Participating in Eid is something I will never forget,” he said. “Like any holiday, the day is spent with family and filled with many customs. Although the actual sacrifice was rather nauseating, I found the rest of the celebration fascinating. The most interesting part was witnessing such an important religious holiday for a different culture and learning about their traditions.”

Every day in Morocco was a new adventure and Marc believes the semester will prove to be an invaluable asset in his future academic studies and throughout his career.

A four day hike in late September proved an especially challenging and enjoyable experience for five of the midshipmen.

“My most memorable experience was trekking through the M'goun range in the Atlas Mountains,” said MIDN 2/C Zofia Stark. “We were so excited that not even having inadequate equipment could stop us from hiking the trail from beginning to finish.”

They feasted on MIDN 2/C Ethan Dalton's homemade oatmeal, ramen noodles with hot sauce, and pasta every day. On the second night of the trek, they were fortunate enough to stay at a refuge house at the base of the M'goun summit where they shared a berthing with fifteen German men and about ten Moroccan men. On the last part of the trail, they hiked through small Amazigh villages and were even able to hitchhike on top of a Mercedes minibus to their final destination.

Life in Rabat was full of many unique opportunities for each of the students there.  MIDN 2/C Elizabeth Warner’s best memories relate to her time riding horses in Dar Eslam. She was able to experience an aspect of Moroccan culture through her favorite activity: equestrian. She faced the challenge of taking a lesson in a mixture of French and Arabic as well as the challenge of different riding styles. At this barn, she made a Moroccan friend, Marouane, who connected her to the master boot maker for the Moroccan cavalry. She was able to purchase custom riding boots for a great price. The boots will forever serve as a reminder of the incredible time she had riding wonderful Moroccan ponies.

All of the midshipmen lived with host families in the old city of Rabat.  Its narrow alleys, open market, and busy gates were a movie-set like backdrop to their daily adventures.

MIDN 1/C Benjamin Demandante relates an interesting story:

“One night, I was lying in my bed unable to sleep due to the heat.  Just as I was dozing off, I heard loud, percussive music drifting up from the streets outside my house. Curious and restless, I decided to leave my hosts' house to investigate. I eventually found a group of musicians performing what I would later learn is called Gnawan music. A large crowd had gathered to watch them, and followed as they capered down the street. Finally, the crowd came to the outer wall of a home and the door was opened. I balked at the entrance, unsure if I was welcome or not. However, the crowd beckoned me in emphatically, speaking only darija (Moroccan Arabic) but with very welcoming gestures. So there I was, at one in the morning, in some strange family's home, watching Gnawan musicians perform for a celebration that I did not understand.”

It was an experience that will stay with Ben for a long time.

The midshipmen attended daily classes at the Institution for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) in Rabat, but learning continued long after the school day was done.

“I learned more through interaction with Moroccans that I ever could in the classroom,” said MIDN 2/C Justice Constantine.

The midshipmen agree that their visit to the US Embassy in Rabat and visits with DOD personnel working there were particularly rewarding. They are very grateful to the Naval Attaché and Foreign Area Officers there who took the time to explain the work they do Рjobs these midshipmen could one day hold.

“From attending events at the U.S. Embassy to surfing at the local break in Rabat, the experiences I had were unique and exciting to the location,” said MIDN 1/C Thomas Bond. “The Moroccan friends I made while abroad widened my perspective and understanding of life in the Middle East.”

The exposure to a new culture and people was the greatest reward of the midshipmen’s time in Morocco.  They had countless adventures, saw dozens of incredible places, and formed many special friendships.  This broadening of perspective will serve them well in careers as Naval or Marine Corps officers.

“The lessons learned in Morocco form a basis for cross-cultural relations and thoughtful leadership whether we serve at home in the U.S. or anywhere the Fleet might take us,” said MIDN 2/C Ethan Dalton.

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